A training administration technology, or platform, is a computer-based operating system used by training organizations to register, track and monitor activity in the training function. It is a foundational technology for operating a training organization. It is often referred to as a learning management system (LMS).
More accurately, the still-evolving administration technologies have traversed through several generations to now include course and student monitoring, resource management, content authoring and management, course delivery, assessments, completion rates, collaboration and more.
There are four types of learning technology platforms of which training administration is the single most commonly used. The other three are authoring platforms, delivery platforms and collaboration platforms. Collectively, the four have evolved to a point where they are typically integrated into a combined system. But the training administration technology, commonly referred to as LMS, is generally regarded as the workhorse of the modern training organization.
It can be employed by training administrators, instructional designers, instructors and students to perform course scheduling, registration, tracking, authoring, delivery, testing and other important tasks. A training management system is typically employed by training departments that provide their employees and/or customers with a “blended” learning solution – a combination of live classroom training and online instruction.
Yet, the training management system remains an often misunderstood administrative tool for many individuals within and around the workforce training arena. The most common misperception is that all training systems are an LMS, and that all LMS have the same functionality. Another source of confusion involves the term LMS itself, and the various definitions that have been applied to it during the past three decades. LMS is a generic term used by many to refer to all forms of administrative technologies. There are a variety of permeations as to an administrative technology, of which an LMS is but one.
The training administrative platform has evolved dramatically from the first “stand alone” system in the early 1980s designed exclusively for training administrators to today’s feature-rich and highly functional applications that are used by others. It has traveled through four distinct technological generations in its 30-year evolutionary journey, and stands on the threshold of a fifth.
The following is a summary of the evolution of training administration technologies:
FIVE PHASES OF THE TRAINING ADMINSTRATION PLATFORM
Stand Alone LMS. The first generation platform was called the Stand Alone LMS. It was a software program designed to operate on a single personal computer and designed for use solely by training administrators. The first known LMS was created in 1983 by software developer Phil Bookman and human resource development executive Rich Silton, who together formed the company Silton-Bookman Systems (SBS). The Cupertino, Calif.-based SBS was acquired by Pathlore in 2000.
The application, named Registrar, enabled HR and training departments to manage training administrative operations including enrolling employees in courses, recording attendance and tracking their training. As the first such training administration software program designed for the fledgling PC market, it introduced other important recordkeeping functions such as providing workforce compliance data to the government.
The Stand Alone LMS was limited in its functionality since networking technologies had not yet been introduced. For example, a single administrator (called a registrar) typically handled all the inputs. All of the training it supported was instructor-led and self-paced.
Networked LMS. The introduction of personal computer networking capability in the early 1990s was an important event in the development of the LMS. It meant that single systems could be accessed by multiple training administrators within a training department, enabling managers to share LMS-related responsibilities and expand the use of the software. Although systems were still designed solely for administrators during this phase of development, the duties of scheduling, registration, post-course tracking and analytics could be spread among other individuals.
Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS). The debut of the Internet in the mid-1990s enabled the broadening of LMS applications beyond that of interest only to the administrator. Instructors and students could access the same system and benefit from an expanded set of features being added. Instructors could create content for students to access, and also conduct testing.
This courseware content capability spawned the need for authoring technology, which quickly became a training market niche. By bringing content into the mix, the training industry finally had a system that included all of the principal learning constituents.
Among the key functionality features of an LCMS is the ability of students to “launch” a specific course from the system following registration (this was done from another server in earlier versions). For the student, this meant the LCMS could provide the e-learning course, administer and record testing, and manage his or her transcript. It also told the scheduler who was taking a given course and when, and provided the administrator with billing and tracking information.
Despite the many technological advancements of the LCMS, and the additional applications enabled by it, the market for “pure play” LMS software programs continues to be robust. According to market research, the vast majority of LMS-related activity is still conducted by training administrators – not instructors or students. This is especially true for large and decentralized organizations.
Learning Portal. The LMS entered its fourth generation during the late 2000’s with the introduction of Web 2.0 capabilities. The result is the Learning Portal, an integrated website for training administration and learning activities. It is today’s growth LMS marketplace.
The Learning Portal allows any learning constituent to participate in publishing, authoring, delivering and administering training. Employees, customers and other learners can visit the site to register for and launch specific courseware targeted to them.
The portal employs a dedicated web interface that aggregates an LMS with social media, collaboration and e-commerce tools. The LMS and possibly other e-commerce software are typically delivered under a hosted “software as a service” (SaaS) model.
A primary attraction for learners is the ability to access informal content, articles, case studies, access to books and other learning materials via the web interface.
Personal Learning Environment. The next generation of the LMS will be an advanced learning portal that allows learners to manage and control their own learning experiences. The features of a personal learning environment include an LMS, collaboration and social media tools, analytics and measurement systems, and advanced filtering technologies that can create a highly customized personal learning experience.
The emergence of relevancy filtering technology by Google and other search engines is creating interest in the potential of PLE’s by a small segment of early adopters. Initial market growth for PLE’s is expected to be in customer training, not employee development.
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